Kansas City health departments, including Johnson County, advise unvaccinated residents to wear masks again

COVID-19 cases are mounting again in Missouri and Kansas, and unvaccinated individuals are at much higher risk than vaccinated people in crowds and indoor spaces. Photo credit Carlos Moreno/KCUR 89.3.

By Alex Smith 

Health department across the Kansas City area advise a return to wearing face masks for people who are unvaccinated against COVID-19 or have underlying medical conditions.

An advisory issued on Friday by 11 local public health departments, including Johnson County’s, said that preventive measures are needed to slow an increase in new coronavirus cases in the Kansas City region.

“Currently, only 40% of Missourians are fully vaccinated. Please assume that 1 in 2 people in any crowd or gathering may be unvaccinated,” the advisory reads.

An average of nearly 1,800 new COVID-19 cases are being reported in Missouri each day — twice as many as were reported two weeks ago.

New cases and hospitalizations have been increasing in the Kansas City area, with an average of 77 coronavirus patients newly hospitalized every day. That is nearly double the number at the start of June.

Vaccine rates in much of the Kansas City area lag even further behind the state, with just 38.1% of Kansas City, Mo., residents completing their vaccinations.

Meanwhile, Johnson County’s vaccination rate remains the highest in the metro, with slightly more than 50% of eligible residents fully vaccinated, according to the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment.

But new cases have shot up in Johnson County in the past two weeks, reaching levels not seen since January.

Unvaccinated should wear masks, avoid crowded indoor spaces

In their advisory Friday, local health departments recommended masks for unvaccinated people indoors and at crowded outdoor events, as well as when in close contact with others who are unvaccinated.

“If unvaccinated, being in crowds like restaurants, bars, fitness centers, or movie theaters puts you at a higher risk for COVID-19,” the advisory states. “Avoid indoor spaces that do not offer fresh air from the outdoors as much as possible.”

Officials also called for people who have underlying medical conditions to wear masks, even if they are vaccinated. These individuals may not receive full protection through vaccination.

Kansas City, Mo., lifted mask requirements in May, and other municipalities have also removed similar rules, although the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention has continued to recommend masks for unvaccinated people.

The health departments urged all residents 12 and older to get vaccinated immediately or to complete vaccinations that they’ve already started.

“The COVID-19 vaccines have been proven to significantly reduce the risk of serious illness, hospitalization and death,” the advisory reads.

On Friday, the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment also issued on guidance to public schools that included mask requirements for students who are not fully vaccinated.

“Although transmission of the virus has decreased substantially compared to this time last year, we must remain vigilant,” said JCDHE director Dr. Sanmi Areola in a statement.

KCUR 89.3 is Kansas City’s NPR affiliate public radio station. You can read and listen to more of their reporting at kcur.org.